Nine Insights I Learned From National Leadership Forum 2016

Growing Leaders hosted our National Leadership Forum last week. Every year, I love the opportunity I get to meet leaders from all over the world and watch them connect with each other, as they learn, grow, and prepare for their next academic season. This year, we had perhaps our best experience yet. Our theme was: “Leaders at Every Level.” Conversations—both on and off stage—were about building a culture of leadership in our organizations. I decided to jot down nine of the insights that surfaced over the two-day forum. I hope you enjoy them below—and decide to join us next year on June 22-23, 2017 for our next National Leadership Forum (we’re almost half-full already).


  1. Culture works like a movie sound track. It makes or breaks the story we’re telling.

Every organization is telling a story, not unlike a movie: there is a script (our words) and acting (our behavior). But every great movie has a great sound track to match, which provides the tone and energy for the story. This is our culture—and it must match our words.

  1. When students are not winning, it’s the adults who need to change.

Too often, when schools don’t perform well, we automatically blame the students: their apathy, conduct or lack of ambition. Dr. Meria Carstarphan reminded us that we must first look in the mirror and ask, “What are we (the leaders) not doing well?”

  1. The key to academic success for many kids is social-emotional learning.

Two of our presenters reminded us that while most of us focus on hard skills or academic scores, social-emotional learning is the key to engaging students. When kids know that they are known, loved and believed in—they perform better.

  1. The quickest way to influence your culture is to embody your values.

Gene Smith spoke about the fundamentals of a healthy culture at OSU. One of these essentials: “You have to go slow to go fast.” In times of decision, slow down; ensure your choice aligns with your values. If we do this, we will accelerate our success.

  1. Leadership is all about managing people’s energy.

Dr. Ken Blanchard had us laughing and crying as we learned. He reminded us that we often default into an M.O. that de-energizes people. We look for faults. Leaders must direct energy toward an aligned goal, helping people win so the team can win.

  1. There’s a purifying effect when staff know their leader will confront problems.

Three of our speakers mentioned this reality. Dr. Meria Carstarphan called it being willing to go down “rabbit holes” like Alice in Wonderland. When leaders have the backbone to address tough issues, respect rises and conduct improves on the team.

  1. Resilience naturally surfaces in a strength-based culture.

Dr. Wayne Hammond spoke about the connection between resilience and a healthy culture. Leaders must focus on what’s strong—not what’s wrong. When we do, energy comes. Then, staff and students sense enough support to improve weaknesses.

  1. An environment without stress or tension is stagnant.

Far too often, we perceive stress as negative. Distress is negative—but organizations need a culture that invites stress. Tension is what causes growth and improvement. Kyle Stark said the key is to provide support in the midst of the tension. People are resilient enough to face stress if they feel support from peers and leaders.

  1. The only way to create a great culture is through servant-leadership.

Nearly every one of our presenters called us back to the basics—that great cultures in schools or organizations require the leader to turn the pyramid upside down. We are here to serve; we are here to create servant-leaders. When we do, we all win.

The two-days were packed with insights and ideas. If you attended—and want to share with others what you picked up from our forum, please comment below to encourage other readers. In any case, I’d love to invite you to attend next year on June 22-23, 2017.

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Nine Insights I Learned From National Leadership Forum 2016